Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge
Instagram has disabled its “related hashtags” feature after a bug restricted the feature for select phrases across the platform. Related hashtags did not appear on the tens of thousands of hashtag pages affected by the bug, potentially restricting available information to any user who tapped on one as it appeared in photo or video captions or sought it out via search.
The issue came to light after a Tech Transparency Project (TTP) report, further explored by BuzzFeed News, found that the bug affected Trump-related hashtags but not those related to Joe Biden. Because many of the related hashtags were derogatory — including #creepyjoebiden, #joebidenpedophile, and #neverbiden — the disparity raised concerns Instagram might be favoring Trump.
Instead, Instagram claims it was a bug. The company has disabled the feature, which was first made available in 2018, after BuzzFeed News alerted Instagram to the issue, but the company is disputing there was any partisan slant involved. “A technical error caused tens of thousands of hashtags to not show related tags. We’ve disabled this feature while we investigate,” an Instagram spokesperson told The Verge. The company also pointed out that #democrats was affected by the bug, even if Biden-related hashtags were not.
Instagram has still not explained the source of the bug or why it was limited to certain hashtags rather than others. It is also not clear how long the bug has persisted on the platform.